“Since the 1850s, the Navy has moved from sail power to coal to oil to nuclear. And every time we changed, plenty of people said the new energy source was too expensive, too hard, and too unproven. But every time, we made a better Navy.”
-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus
If the U.S. military were a country, it would be the 35th biggest consumer of oil, more so than the country of Sweden. It is the single biggest consumer of oil, which puts national safety in direct conflict with energy security. Tom Engelhardt with Alternet effectively described the expansive size of the U.S. military in two sentences:
The U.S. has 1,000 or more bases around the world; other countries, a handful. The U.S. spends as much on its military as the next 14 powers (mostly allies) combined. In fact, it’s investing an estimated $1.45 trillion to produce and operate a single future aircraft, the F-35 — more than any country, the U.S. included, now spends on its national defense annually.
The expansive and resource intensive U.S. military has much to gain from becoming more efficient and realistic in their operations.
The history of military and oil interests are very similar and equally as bloody. In 1945, the meeting between President Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud marked the start of the United States trading military security for free flowing oil from Saudi Arabia. This extended to the Bush years: ‘“We do, of course, have historic ties to governments in the region,’ Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 11, 1990,” (Klare, Blood and Oil, Location 750 of 6985). In wartime, the very use of oil causes casualties. One soldier or civilian dies for every 24 fuel convoys in modern combat zones, and these deaths are easily preventable with current access to affordable renewable energy. In Afghanistan, oil must be airlifted into remote bases, costing $400 a barrel and sometimes the same amount for just a gallon. It’s simply pointless not to generate local energy, since the fuel convoys are already supplying the explosives for enemy attack.
The Army has very little reason not to install panels on their operating bases in the Middle East. In addition to having the most access to the sun on the planet, the solar systems are almost completely silent, have no moving parts, and can easily adapt to personal use away from the base. The only drawback in using clean energy consists of commenting on the paradox of using clean energy to secure sources of polluting fuels. Furthermore, the country as a whole country must address climate change to ensure a more effective and efficient military. The Eglin air force base in Florida is cited to be at risk for rising seas, and the melting glaciers and drought will cause more resource wars and thus more preventable military demands. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the Pentagon, and numerous other military leaders recognize the reality of climate change. Now all we need is to get the Army up to speed.
The use of these green technologies is not for the sole benefit of soldier safety or environmental awareness either. The Shadow Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) used by the Army and Marine Corps generates tailpipe temperatures of over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. The U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is conducting research on thermoelectric materials to recover the waste heat and thus improve the range of the aircraft. The research would in turn provide outlets to incorporate recovery devices on fleet vehicles, tanks, and even soldiers. Some innovative minesweepers are made of sustainable bamboo and biodegradable plastic to reduce environmental impact when they set off a mine. The Air Force is installing 1.6 megawatts of wind turbines in Cape Cod to save money, reduce air pollution, and provide secure, local power.
While many renewable energy projects on military bases seem to be on the focus of reducing environmental impact, the real reason is the safety of the power supply. Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil firm, had three-quarters of their personal computers hacked, and the Stuxnet virus impeded on Iran’s Uranium enrichment program. Viruses from Russia and China are said to be already planted in the U.S. electrical grid, and military bases are quickly converting to micro-grids that do not connect to the national grid.
The government also should quit relying on government contracting companies that profit by defacing the earth. As the world’s largest oilfield service company, Halliburton just seemed to lose a radioactive rod used for locating oil and gas. Should a person have kept it within their close proximity, they would have died. One of the biggest obstacles to greening the military is legislative branch of the federal government. With a bulk of members similar to James Inhofe (R-OK), John McCain (R-AZ), and Randy Forbes (R-Va) calling for increases in military spending, they ironically criticize the higher costs of biofuels and encourage the higher carbon-cost of coal to liquid fuel purchases by the military.
Another fantastic opportunity for the U.S. military to reduce is environmental impact is by to reduce the occupation of the numerous areas of the globe. Research indicates that 18% of foreign military and economic aid is used for purchasing access to bases. Since the research is funded by the Pentagon, we can assume that figure is higher. The one million soldiers and families would be consuming resources wherever they live, but at least an effective setting, the $22 to $140 billion would be pumped into local and domestic economies instead of abroad. In Italy’s Southern Alps, construction for “little America” will consist of 34 new buildings on 145 acres for 2,000 soldiers, all of which in an area has not posed a threat to the country in over half a century. The half a billion tax dollars (and more important, time commitments) could go from pissing off the locals to installing solar panels on soldier’s houses. The $1 billion effort would produce over 21 gigawatt hours of electricity and thus reduce the need to acquire fuel from foreign sources.
The green programs like Smart and Green Energy (SAGE) or “Net Zero” need to be more than bullet points on military operations. They should be outlooks that carry over into overall military strategy and relations to citizens. During World War II, it was considered patriotic and necessary to recycle metal, paper, tires, and countless other resources. Food and energy were conserved and the people bragged about it. The Office of War Information once stated on a poster, “Saving fuel saves transportation for America’s war effort”. Now, I’d suggest a similar saying: “saving fuel reduces the need for America’s war effort”.